Women and in particular widows and women-headed households tend to be denied, or are assigned weaker, land rights and as a result are often amongst the most vulnerable in the society. Strengthening their rights to land contributes not only to gender equality but also to poverty reduction, since women are responsible for household subsistence production and welfare. IFAD‟s experience shows that improving women‟s economic status is essential for overall improvement in their social status and well-being. But, for women‟s economic status to improve, they need secure access to land. Customary land tenure systems prevail in most areas where IFAD-supported programmes are implemented. Under customary law, women tend to have weaker but nonetheless protected rights. These rights tend to be eroded in rapidly changing societies.
The main challenge is managing the transition in a way that strengthens/defends the rights of the rural poor and women. Certain key legal provisions for strengthening women‟s rights could include the recognition of their “secondary” rights being equal to men‟s rights, the co-registration of spousal rights and the recognition of women‟s inheritance rights. IFAD has learned that defending and expanding women‟s rights requires comprehensive action at different levels: information and capacity building; organisational and empowerment measures; legal assistance and advocacy. Land tenure issues are inextricably linked to gender relations and thus a gender analysis is critical to design effective targeted actions. It is often necessary to put in place complementary measures to enable women to actually influence decisions regarding their rights to land.